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Gun Down a Memory

May 29, 1999|FREDERICK H. BORSCH | Frederick H. Borsch is the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles

Place: The young men's locker room of Hinsdale Township High School. Year: 1952. Actors: Lefty Pena, me and Bobby Schatts.

Behind the scenes, a lot was going on. Hinsdale was an elite Chicago suburb. It was segregated.

The high school district, however, also encompassed Westmont. In Westmont there lived the sons and daughters of Mexican Americans who had helped build the Burlington Railroad. Lefty was one of them, a senior and a star on the football team. With his jock status and outgoing personality he could mingle with the rest of us--up to a point, like trying to date the girls from Hinsdale.

I was a junior, and a minor figure on the football team. But I lived in Hinsdale. I was a top student, popular, a class officer and oblivious to my privileges.

Bobby was a freshman, a little kid at the time. He was the younger brother of a good-looking girl in my class.

When I walked into the locker room, Lefty was introducing Bobby to some form of initiation rite that involved holding his head in the toilet while flushing it. I took some exception to this.

When I came to, I was sitting in the coach's office. One of the first things I remembered was how upset the coach was with me. He liked me, but I had messed with his star athlete.

It all blew over. Lefty came to visit me in the hospital. Lying there with my left cheek bone broken, I realized he had knocked me out with his right hand.

Years later, Lefty and I met at a retirement party for Coach Dickinson. Lefty was now himself a coach and a respected teacher in a neighboring high school. He cried and apologized again, and then we hugged and laughed remembering the incident.

And now I think. What if guns had been only a phone call away or easily purchased by a girlfriend at a gun show? What if a gun had been readily available to me or to Lefty or even Bobby Schatts?

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